What I learnt about learning.

Transforming something that’s already good is indeed a huge challenge and it needs a very different mindset and very competent set of people (as your team) who are highly skilled in making major transformations happen. I have observed that business and functional transformation has fast evolved as a center of expertise in many organizations and in some organizations it is also evolving as a permanent function. The landscape of learning (What, Why, How, When and Where of Learning) has changed significantly over the last one decade and some of the major paradigm shifts have happened due to the following:

1. There have been new research outcomes and suggestions in the area of neuro science and human learning that has helped us understand how people learn and hence it has compelled many to re-think their learning interventions and designs.

2. The advent of technology and disruption caused by the digital and social media has turned the concept of training and classroom learning upside down. Today, the technology of Learning Management Systems (LMS) has beautifully evolved from systems of record to platforms of sharing, networking, knowledge management and hence learning. The LMS functionality and its apps have made them a superior platform for learning on the go. Smooth dovetailing of the LMS with the HR ERP is helping connect the learning function with the overall competency-based HR processes of the company.

3. The unique needs, styles and aspirations of the millennials and younger generational workforce members have compelled many organizations to re-think their learning function and its offerings. The whole shift from traditional classroom-based training to mixed models of learning such as on-the-job, coaching and mentoring, open source learning platforms on the internet is picking up rather fast and every company needs to have a clear strategy, plan and a technology platform that can cater to this.

4. Sustained economic uncertainty has compelled organizations to become more efficient with the learning and capability building investment. Theoretically speaking, learning is still a discretional spending. However, many have learnt that not having the right capabilities, skills, competencies and knowledge makes today’s knowledge workforce inefficient and unproductive and that severely affects the organizations’ performance and perpetuity.

It is important that the learning function takes advantage of the fast evolving digital and social tech platforms. You better be continuously innovating and learning or you will soon become irrelevant to your audience and learners. For instance, 20 years ago not many would have imagined that high-street banking will die and all those beautiful bank buildings on the high street will become cafes, bars or boutique shops. Because of the shift towards online banking, the banks with the best online banking products, solutions and service and security will survive and win. Similarly, not many imagined that you would not have to buy a newspaper or watch television at home to keep pace with the world and its news. Today, I don’t buy a newspaper and watch television for news!! Look at what’s happening to the retail sector. I had never imagined shopping suits or shoes online, but today I do and it works well. Hence, make sure you have team members who are tech savvy and have the necessary skills and competencies for leveraging the best in class technology and social networking/learning platforms.

Moving from Instructional Design (ID) to Learning Experience Design (LED)

Companies and vendors still talk about instructional design (ID) as the core of learning content development. ID was at the core when the dominant medium and channel of learning was the classroom, where the belief was that the instructor or teacher is detrimental to one’s learning. Charles Jennings, my good friend and the father of 70:20:10 learning principle and framework helped me understand and learn how important and fundamental this learning principle and framework is. 70 +20 = 90% of your LED should be on the job with leader led support and just 10% should be formal (Classroom + E-learning). E-learning modules, even if they are available on the mobile, are categorized as formal learning offerings. One of my biggest learning was in the area of designing action learning offerings for people to learn on-the-job. The difficult part in doing this is designing and ensuring a standardized way for the leaders to coach and support their employees whilst they are in action learning mode. I must say that I continue to learn in this area every day. Another important learning for me was that the company has to make some clear strategic choices about what they will do themselves versus what they should buy from vendors especially in the area of learning content development. We built a small but a powerful content development organization in Pune for the Philips University and they are more a COE, where they do develop some of the learning content for Philips University but their primary role is to ensure quality of learning design and content for all learning offerings of our company and develop strategic vendors for the bulk of learning offerings. It works very well and I am blessed to have a fantastic team of highly competent and skilled people who are making a huge difference.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

I had once blogged on this topic and in my opinion it’s important when it comes to learning too. You can create the entire infrastructure and build all the technology platforms, but if you don’t work on creating a learning culture, culture where learning is sought, supported and celebrated – you will fail in achieving the desired impact of learning in any organization. Leader led learning is a very strong trait of any organization’s culture. It’s when leaders of the organization own, support and drive learning versus the Learning COE. Learning COE should be the enabler and the value creator and not the owner of learning. Building a learning culture is by far the most difficult thing when you are transforming learning and one my learnings is that it takes time to build the culture. It’s a journey – but you have to be at it.

1. Don’t confuse learning with leadership development. Learning is a sum of many parts, while leadership development, talent management, culture building, capability building, leveraging technology are some of the important parts. If you don’t embed leadership development under learning and treat and manage it separately – you might end up confusing the organization and there might be duplication of efforts.

2. Run your learning like a business. Most progressive companies invest significantly in learning and as the Chief Learning Officer you are managing significant budgets. Business acumen, the ability to manage P&L and be operationally excellent are pre-requisites for any CLO. Fortunately, I had done line roles in the past and had the experience of managing P&Ls and large budgets, but I learnt how to run learning like a business, which creates value for its stakeholders and measure its impact on the organization and its eco-system. The five practices of excellence—Project Management, Process Management, Change Management, Performance Management and Continuous Improvement—are fundamental in managing a large scale learning transformation program. Make sure you have the best-in-class people owning and leading each of the above-mentioned practice and apply lean and design thinking as you build the ‘Learning Machine’ for your company and run it like a business.

In conclusion, learning is indeed a very specialized subject and it has some very specific technical nuances, which one needs to learn. However, it’s not rocket science if you have a strategic mindset, are operationally savvy and have the will and wherewithal to learn and innovate. It takes time to transform learning and create a learning culture and in my experience it takes about two to three years to manage a project well. The transformation journey has its moments and every moment and experience over the past two to three years has been learning for me. If I was asked to do it all over again, I would say a BIG YES and will be able to do it more smartly because of my learning about learning.

I am re-blogging this article, which was carried by People Matters, a leading HR Magazine and learning resource for Human Resource Professionals. The original article can be accessed at http://goo.gl/VnUIsF 

Get off that dead horse….

I was well aware of the idiom; “Beating or Flogging a dead horse”. Which means wasting time persevering with something that’s foreclosed, concluded, decided or dead.  While ago, I saw a viral email (source unknown), which shared the wisdom and notion of the dead horse theory, which is probably based on the same idiom. The viral email and its contents were as follows:

Dead-Horse-Theory

The tribal wisdom of the Plains Indians, passed on from generation to generation, says that:

“When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.”

However, many leaders and organizations relent and persevere with the dead horse and more advanced strategies are often employed, such as:

1. Buying a stronger whip.

2. Changing riders.

3. Appointing a committee to study the horse.

4. Arranging to visit other countries to see how other cultures ride dead horses.

5. Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included

6. Reclassifying the dead horse as living-impaired.

7. Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.

8. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed.

9. Providing additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse’s performance.

10. Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse’s performance.

11. Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overhead and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses.

12. Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses.

And, of course…

13. Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position.

I found the above satirical viral email (source unknown) rather interesting and thought provoking. Attempting to put the above in context, let me begin my post in which I will present some of my perspectives and opinions on  how the corporate world keeps beating some of the dead horses instead of dismounting them.

In the corporate world the dead horse theory is often seen at play in many areas but some of the prominent areas in my observation are; Strategy, Policy, Processes, Technology and People.

How often have you seen a dead and an irrelevant strategy being defended and persevered, dead strategies which aren’t delivering results or are making the desired impact. I have seen it a few times and I have confronted and challenged it as much as I can. Must say that, if not always, I have often succeeded in convincing people to stop beating the dead horse (persevering with the dead strategy) and instead mount a new one. About a decade ago when I used to work for a top company in the Asia Pacific region as their HR Business partner, I remember challenging my talent acqusition team on the old and irrelevant strategies of attracting talent from Engineering and MBA Schools. The old strategy included focussing on pre-recruitment season talks at the campuses, recruiting a few interns and some graduates. The war for talent had intensfied and if we had persevered with our old strategies then we would have lost the plot. The new strategy was not about just recruiting talent, it was all about building a employer brand which was valued internally and externally by the talent, it was about engaging with the talent in campuses throughout their academic period and not just before the recruiting season. Mounting a new horse did pay off as we were successful and managed to attract and retain very good talent. I often find many companies complaining about the war for talent and how the talent shortage is affecting their business. I say, look at your strategies and if they are a dead horse then  dismount and ride a new horse. Complaining and persevering with your old strategies is like beating a dead horse and it won’t help.

POLICIES and PROCESSES is another area, where we keep beating the dead horses. We often criticize our governments for its lack of sensitivity towards the needs of its people and how slow and beuracratic they are when it comes to changing policies and processes that are irrelevant. Now think about your organisation, do you see policies and processes that are dead and how long do we take before we revise or change them and make them relevant? Google as a company is a case in point where they have become a Top Employer in such a short time and it’s coz of their culture, ethos, people related polices and processes – they are very relevant to the needs of today’s top talent and hence they are able to attract and retain top talent. It’s more than just the free gourmet food that they serve to their employees, be it their paternity leave policy or their process of making work more meaningful, it’s a whole range of things. They fortunately don’t have a plethora of legacy polices and processes and hence what they have and ride are new horses in the area of their people related practices. It will be interesting to see how they stay ahead and don’t get caught up with their own legacy as they grow, mature and age. But this is one company which is a true benchmark. Read this blog on what makes Google a top employer as assessed and declared by Glassdoor in their annual list of “50 Best Places to Work,” http://goo.gl/04e3pE

TECHNOLOGY is another classic area where we live with and flog irrelevant and dead technologies and coz of various reasons we don’t upgrade the technology or the skills required to upgrade it. This causes serious efficiency and productivity issues as compared to competition and sets many companies back. Enterprise-wide, integrated, efficient, secured and standard technology platforms across the company is every corporations goal. But the pace at which the technology is changing and evolving, it’s rather hard to decide when you dismount the dying tech platform horse and mount a new one. And the horse of technology comes at a cost, which is difficult to capatilisze coz of its shorter life cycle even when compared to fashion. In my observation as compared to the cost of technology the bigger issue is the know how and competence of the leaders about the changes, evolution and real benefits of newer technologies. Hence most are often beating a dead horse of a technology platform, thinking it’s alive.

When it comes to PEOPLE – how and when to consider them a dead horse. The corporate world’s leaders and their beliefs, thinking, philosophy and ethos is basically divided in three categories. 1) There are leaders and organizations with a harder view and approach and as per them when people reach their level of incompetence (Peter Principle http://goo.gl/yGPUYe) then those people (“Dead Wood”) should to be separated and exited from the organisation – either on grounds of non-performance or in a wave of restructuring and downsizing. 2) Then there are those who have a more softer and socialistic view and approach and they believe that people can never be termed as “Dead Wood” or Dead Horse – until they retire or literally die. 3) Then there are those who have a blended view and approach of the earlier two explained, they are neither too hard nor too soft and socialistic.

In my perspective PEOPLE whom we term as HUMAN RESOURCES are the most valuable resources of any organisation and it’s the responsibility of any good organisation and its leaders to invest in developing and growing their people and keep them employable. However, the responsibility of the PEOPLE towards themselves and their organisation is to ensure that they take a lead and co-ownership of their development (Knowledge, skills, values and attitude) and ensure their own employability.

In my opinion a person can be termed as a dead horse in an organisation when they are consistent non-performers and makes no effort or shows no willingness to improve their performance and skills. People who are dis-engaged and are uncapable of engaging others and creating value for their organisation are like horses that are about to die. Last but not the least, people with lack of integrity and or unacceptable standards of ethics are serious dead horses. Organizations and leaders should definitely dismount these type of dead horses and find and mount good ones.

Would love to hear your views, opinions and perspectives on this.

 

Leading in times of turbulent change: @debjani_ghosh_ MD – SMG, Intel SA on #PhilipsHRtalks

Video

http://t.co/giLQTjrJ77

#PhilipsHRtalks is a unique and innovative open source learning platform created by Philips India HR Team. Renowned and accomplished thought leaders are invited on this platform to share their ideas and knowledge and video recordings on their talk is posted on YouTube on the Philips India Channel.

Debjani Ghosh @debjani_ghosh_ was invited to speak on this platform and her pearls of wisdom are encapsulated in this video. Thank you Debjani!!